The One-Two Punch: Jenene Nagy

By Lisa Radon | Monday, November 29, 2010
The One-Two Punch: Jenene Nagy

It was hard to imagine how Oregon Arts Commission Fellowship winner Jenene Nagy could best her triumphant installation Tidal at Disjecta in February, 2010. A gargantuan magenta wave broken into jagged planes, Tidal curled up into the rafters and spilled across the gleaming concrete floor of Disjecta's massive gallery space that was ringed with a "horizon line" of fluorescent tubes. It seemed that she had done what was among Portland's most ambitious installations in the best space in Portland in which to do ambitious installation work. Could there even be an encore? In the few years since she had received her MFA from U of O in 2004, she had shown at Linfield College Gallery and Marylhurst's Art Gym, the other regional venues for large-scale installation work. And she had been selected as one of the handful of regional artists to receive a solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum as part of its Apex series. Nagy had been invited to do installations in Arizona, California, and Ohio (supported in part by an OAC Career Opportunity Grant). Would her next step have to be to take her show on the road?

Nagy had another trick up her sleeve. Curated into the Portland 2010 Biennial, Nagy made an installation she called "Destroyer," acknowledging it as the dark twin of Tidal. In the darkened basement of the vacant Templeton Building at the east end of the Burnside Bridge, Nagy's jagged pink planes made of drywall propped up with 2x4's reappeared, this time busting through walls and littered with tangles of fluorescent tubes. It was powerful, arresting, with a sense that something grave had happened here. It was spooky enough that an 11-year-old I took to see the installation spent about two minutes taking it all in before he said to me, "I have to get out of here."

All the while that Nagy has been doing her own ambitious work, she's been curating exhibitions of equally high caliber. Nagy and husband Josh Smith co-curated the critically-lauded Tilt Gallery and Project Space in the Everett Lofts in Portland for two and a half years between 2006 to 2008. The duo presented exhibitions that would not have been seen elsewhere in Portland, introducing to Portland artists including Stephen Slappe, Avantika Bawa, Fawn Krieger, and Stephanie Robison among many others. She continues with Smith to co-direct TILT Export, an independent arts initiative that works with a variety of venues to produce exhibitions like Approximate with installations by Damien Gilley and Ethan Rose at galleryHOMELAND and Kartz Ucci at Helzer Gallery, PCC Rock Creek.

So it should be no surprise that after her very busy summer with a residency at RAID Projects in Los Angeles and her inclusion in an exhibition at the Torrance Art Museum, Nagy returned not only to the offer of a full-time teaching position at Clark College in Vancouver but to the announcement of her appointment as inaugural curator-in-residence for Disjecta. She will curate for 2011-2012 season with an emphasis on solo shows featuring installation, site-specific and project-based works beginning with a solo exhibition for Karl Burkheimer, the head of the wood department at the Oregon College of Art and Craft. For some time now Nagy has served as an informal adviser to director Bryan Suereth and Disjecta's board; her appointment as curator formalizes this relationship.

Just as Nagy negotiates in her installations between object, viewer, and space, in her studio practice, she continues to negotiate the spaces between painting and sculpture with one foot in each realm. And Portland and the region are better for her willingness as well to continue with one foot in each of the realms of curatorial work and her own art practice. As she heads into 2011, Nagy's moving forward on all fronts.

Oregon Arts Commission

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775 Summer Street NE, Ste 200
Salem, OR 97301-1280